Defending the Faith: A 101 Course in Pagan Apologetics
by Vetch Hoshizora
What is Apologetics?
It is a term that we most often here applied to the ‘outreach’ work of Christian evangelist ministries, describing their work spreading the Gospel amongst minority faith groups, other world religions, and even some of their own sects; in short, anyone they believe has not been ‘saved’ by the message of Jesus Christ and therefore freed from their sins.
Naturally, Christianity has had reason to come up with many creative ways of expressing their faith and talking about it to non-believers, as a faith committed to evangelism, and the time in its long history to perfect these methods. For new religions, with definitions not as sharply delineated as Christianity, the task of defending ones faith from attack is made more difficult – particularly in Neo-Paganism, where there is often a lack of coherency as to what people actually believe, and where most adherents cannot definitively agree as to what constitutes their faith that would include everyone who religiously self-identifies as neo-Pagan.
Apologetics is a useful medium for helping us define what we are, as it forces us to set out our theological walls, both to help new seekers coming to us for information in deciding who they want to be and how they want to worship, and to protect ourselves from liability as a faith when unscrupulous and predatory people assume the mantle of Neo-Paganism, taking advantage of its inclusively and lack of exclusiveness, to prey upon the vulnerable.
The Pagan community is painfully aware of recent incidents where sex offenders pretended to justify their perversions by saying it was part of their practice as Pagans, and also of the conmen who come in trying to make a quick buck from the naïve.
It is easy for a Christian to say that a pedophile is unable to justify their actions as Christian, for part of the definition of “Christian” excludes such actions and reviles them. Without obvious moral codes and virtue ethics for each Neo-Pagan tradition, which are agreed upon and presentable to a court of law, we open our ecocentric and caring religions to the slander of people who don’t understand we don’t condone the behavior of fringe extremists or perverts who pretend to be part of us.
Apologetics is a “systematic defense” against an attack, and explaining what we are, while not proselytizing, is a far better way of avoiding damaging misinformation than anything else.
Apologetics is much more than simply the work of a proselytizing faith.
Apologetics is the field of study concerned with the systematic defense of a position. Someone who engages in apologetics is called an apologist. The term comes from the Greek word apologia, meaning the defense of a position against an attack, not from the English word apology, which is exclusively understood as a defensive plea for forgiveness for an action that is open to blame.
From Wikipedia article, “Apologetics”
Is there a need for Pagan Apologetics?
Apologetics has been used by other world religions as an organized form of defending their faith from the misinformation often disseminated by their critics, or people with evangelizing ambitions, determined to show them the supposed error of their ways. Searching for ‘Pagan Apologetics’ on the Web usually turns up many online Christian ministries dedicated to trying to reach and save practitioners of modern Witchcraft and Wicca, and the ecocentric religions of modern Paganism, though Wicca is more commonly focused on because its tenets and practitioners are far more well known.
However, I turned up on a routine search a website started by Hellenic Pagans to do just what the definition of apologetics suggests: to defend their position as Pagans and people of faith, and to present others with an opportunity to correct their misconceptions. And it’s true that we as Pagans suffer a lot from lies and ignorance deliberately or unconsciously perpetuated about us, even Witch or Pagan stereotypes which to make us a taken-seriously faith we must reject.
Answering common misconceptions
(1) Wiccans worship the Devil
(2) Wiccans engage in ritual orgies or promiscuous sex
(3) Wicca is only for women
(4) Wicca has no rules or binding ethics
(5) Wicca is a cult that recruits people
(6) Wicca can be whatever you want it to
On the surface, some of these appear to be more damaging than others, but all are equally bad as wrong ideas. The first equated a harmless ecocentric religion that abhors harming other people and even animals with the worship of the Christian anti-God, the fallen angel God created and cast out as the “ruler of this world, ” and the tempter of mankind into sinful ways.
Though there is no equivalent of Satan in Wiccan or Pagan thinking, we must realize an important thing about this misconception – we cannot simply say, “That is the Satanists, ” as it only applies to those religious theistic Satanists, and not all of them; moreover, as Christians, they think religiously in black and white, and in absolutes, whereas our perceptions of truth are a mixture of relative and absolute.
To them, there are only two kinds of power in this world – the power of God, allotted to Christians and particularly to their clergy; and the power of Satan, in his capacity as God’s antithesis and method of persuading people to worship him by giving his followers an enemy to fight.
Anyone wielding preternatural gifts or powers that is not a Christian (even specifically a born-again Christian) is therefore of Satan, whether they are a theistic Satanist, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Druid, or whatever.
In conversation with evangelists who say you worship the Devil, the best reply is, “I understand that in your worldview as a Christian, I must be worshipping the only other entity capable of worship in your eyes, as monotheism does not accept the existence of other Gods; however, this argument is irrelevant to me, as I am not a Christian.”
The second is based upon the Pagan unwillingness to be drawn into an attitude of being terrified of sex, or of perceiving it as a sinful thing to have sexual desires and to express them in your own way. It arises from the repressed desires of medieval clergy writing witch-hunter’s manuals, and maybe even from a secret fear that people are capable of being so free with their bodies.
To meet with such an accusation, based on Inquisitional myth of orgiastic sex with the devil and copulating with nameless partners at nightly meetings of witches, you must be clear and precise with your answer.
You say, “The Pagan attitude to sex is that it is not a carnal, shameful thing resulting from man’s sinful nature, but that it is a natural part of us as human beings that creates life and pleasure, and we celebrate the life-producing powers of sex and the loving environment that it usually takes place in. Pagans are as responsible about safe sex as Christians.”
The third misconception might result from publicized feminists of the Craft or of general Paganism, stating witchcraft or Wicca to be “wimmin’s religion, ” to quote Z Budapest. Also, men may feel slightly uncomfortable about a religion where women’s sexuality is openly expressed and celebrated, and where women, particularly in Wicca, are more powerful than men – a High Priestess leads the rites, and the Goddess is more important than her consort.
In response, Wiccans in particular (I say this as Druidry and Heathenry are often considered to be more “men’s religions” or “male-friendly” than witchcraft, or Wicca) need to say, “Men and women, or women and men, are equally valued and celebrated in Wicca and witchcraft, with their own mysteries, their own energies, and their own abilities to bring into the ritual circle and into the community at large and the coven; we do not stereotype men or women as possessing certain qualities, but recognize both have an equal power to be strong and sensitive at the same time.”
The fourth misconception is difficult to explain when we recognize that the people who evangelize to us have a different code of ethics more rigidly laid out than our own. Simple statements here on the beliefs of separate Pagans are more likely to explain our ethics, rather than sweeping statements.
“Heathens are bound by oaths they hold sacred, by their nine values which tell them the virtues they must uphold in their lives, and by the sayings of Odin and the teachings found in the Hávamál and the Poetic Edda.”
“Druid ethics are found in a set of nine values to uphold in their daily lives; in Nihtscad’s eleven statements of behavior for a Druid; in the code of honorable behavior or “keeping face” held in such high esteem by the Celtic warriors of the past, and by the teachings passed down to us through oral lore and in the triads which teach wisdom.”
“Wiccans are bound by the Wiccan Rede, simply stated as ‘An it harm none, do as thy will’, which means that a Wiccan may do what they want to so long as nobody is harmed in the process. Therefore they are held to a high grade of responsibility and self-examination regarding all of their actions and words.”
And so on. A little knowledge about other people’s traditions goes a long way, and I believe I’m of the school that if you hear another Pagan belief being maligned, if you know what the truth is then say it, don’t just sit there.
As it is said, “Why is it that only black people should be offended by racism?” In the same vein, it can be said, “Why is it that only Heathens should be offended by people who lie about Heathenry?”
Why shouldn’t a well-informed Wiccan, who knows that racism is not equated with culture in Odinism, stand up and say so when they hear a person going about saying they are all Neo-Nazis?
The fifth misconception has brought Pagans and Wiccans the attention of “counter-cult” groups, some honestly unaware that Paganism is hardly a cult by anyone’s standards of definition, others deliberately perpetuating this misinformation as an attempt to smear us as people of faith. Sometimes, it would be a good idea to point out how widespread the use of Isaac Bonewits’s “Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” is regarding assessment of religious or quasi-religious groups as dangerous cults, and that he himself is a Pagan (indeed, a Druid).
Other times, it would be better to say, “Paganism is not and cannot be a cult by definition – we are agreed, are we not, that a cult prevents its members from accessing outside opinions or ideas, and is controlled by a central charismatic leadership who purports to possess the truth of the matter in spiritual things. How, then, is Paganism a cult, when it is only an umbrella term for many separate religious faith groups with only a loose theology in common, with most of its practitioners solitary or in autonomous groups without any central leadership, and an emphasis on pluralism?”
The sixth misconception is most often applied to Wicca, therefore it is Wiccans that most need to watch for this idea, or this idea presented as a question. People are nowadays aware that many Druid or Heathen groups do not believe the same things as each other, and like Christian denominations, have their own ideas about ritual practice, interpreting theology, and so on.
Can Paganism, with its loose, syncretic and eclectic mix of what defines it as a religion, even be able to say, “this isn’t Pagan” or “that isn’t Wiccan”? Well yes, actually. Wicca is a religion created by Gerald Gardner in the 1950’s, and whilst it has a fairly eclectic mix of influences and sources for what it is about, it still has specific parameters.
Every Wicca 101 book, even if quite badly slated by the older and wiser practitioners, still has the same basic ideas and concepts. It’s the idea that you “read twelve books and all possess the same message, just told in the same way.” So you can’t just do anything and say you’re a Wiccan. Nor can you say “I do this and am still a Druid” or “I believe that but I’m still an Odinist.” Nope – there are indeed defining features.
Go back over your books, fellow Pagans, and pick out the characteristics of your faith that appear consistently in each of the ones you’ve picked up on Wicca/Druidry etc.
Quick and Easy strategies
1.) Know your hard and fast facts cold on Wicca and other Neo-Pagan faiths – create your own definition and refine it, yet be sure to point out this is your personal perception of your faith and not everybody would agree. Having a general definition of Wicca, for example, and a more specific definition of your practice is probably best here.
2.) Be aware of the use of Biblical evidence – read the verses on the Internet that prohibit witchcraft and certain Pagan practices, and think best how to explain that this text does not apply to you; besides the usual arguments over the meaning of the passage ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’, Pagans generally don’t believe the Bible is divinely inspired and as we are not Christians none of the contents apply to us.
3.) Be consistent – you can’t say you don’t believe in evil and then fervently argue that the actions of the Inquisition or the witch-hunters making profits off medieval hysteria were evil. If you believe that bad things happen in the world due to the workings of karma, and that each man therefore deserves his lot in life because of what he did in the last, be prepared to answer the accusation that therefore nobody should apprehend child molesters, rapists or murderers because it would be ‘interfering’ with their karma.
Questions you may be asked
1.) What is Neo-Paganism?
2.) What is modern Druidry/Wicca/Odinism/Asatru/Shamanism etc?
3.) How and why did you get involved in your religion?
4.) What generated your interest in your religion?
5.) What benefit do you get from being Wiccan/Druid/an Odinist etc?
6.) Who or what do you worship?
7.) What needs do you feel your religion meets in your life?
8.) How do you know Wicca/Druidry etc is the right religion for you?
9.) How do you define truth, or know what is true?
10.) Why did you decide your religion was truer than Christianity?
11.) What would convince you Christianity is ‘The One Way’?
12.) What do you define as evil?
13.) What happens to you after you die?
Obviously, I can’t predict the future because there are too many possibilities, so I cannot anticipate all the tricky questions an inventive evangelist, or a curious friend or family member might ask you. That is why it is important to know as much about your personal path as possible, in order to have creative and innovative answers to anything you may be asked.
Not everyone who questions you about your faith is doing so maliciously, or to witness to you; they might simply wish to compare their answers from their own religion, or lack of it, to the conclusions you came to in order to see what is different about yours. Anyway, here is a selection of questions that a Pagan may find useful to know the answers to, or even enjoy thinking about.
1.) Do the Gods/Goddess/Lord and Lady love their followers?
2.) Why do you believe in unspecified Gods as Creators of the world, as opposed to the singular Creator proposed by the Bible?
3.) Are the Gods immanent only, or immanent and transcendent?
4.) Is it possible to reconcile Christianity with a Pagan path?
5.) What happens to non-Pagans after death?
6.) What happens to people who have done bad things after death?
7.) What does honor mean, and how do you live an honorable life?
8.) How do the Gods control natural phenomena outside of the country in which their worship originated? (e.g. Why does a Heathen in the US believe that if they pray to Thor to change the weather that he can do that when he was originally worshipped in Scandinavia?)
9.) Do you believe that the Christian God Yahweh exists?
10.) Do you believe every religion has truth in it? If so, how do you reconcile your religion as truthful with others that contradict it?
11.) Do you believe we evolved, or that there is Intelligent Design?
12.) Are the Gods real entities, faces of a single God and Goddess, or merely symbols through which you focus magical energies?
13.) If the Gods love you, why didn’t they die for you like Jesus did?
“Wicca: The New, Old Religion” by Keith GibsonCARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministries)Lion of Judah Ministries
“Neopaganism’s Bewitching Charms” from Christianity Today archives
Apologetics Index at 4truth.net
“What Do Pagans Believe?” by Graham Harvey
“What Do Druids Believe?” by Philip Carr-Gomm
Various Druid, Wicca and Asatru books in my own possession, and conversations with practitioners undertaken in my own time
This essay composed of excerpts from a larger personal project called “The Pagan Apologist.”
Copyright: This work is copyrighted to Vetch and to the mundane name held by the same young druid. It may be reproduced with my name attached by other Pagans on other websites in full or part.